Protect the Endangered Species Act

Protect the Endangered Species Act By James Heisinger, Ph. D. and John H. Davidson For more than 30 years, the Endangered Species Act (ESA)�has sounded the alarm whenever wildlife faces extinction.�Today, we have wolves in Yellowstone, manatee in Florida, and sea otter in California, largely because of the Act. We can still see bald eagles in the lower 48 states as well as other magnificent creatures such as the peregrine falcon, alligator, and California condor, largely because of the ESA. The ESA speaks specifically to the value ��tangible and intangible � of conserving species for future generations, a key point sometimes lost in today�s discussions. And, the ESA recognizes a key fact that scientific understanding confirms again and again ��the best way to protect species is to conserve their habitat.

Reduced to its core, the ESA simply says that the government must identify species threatened with extinction, identify habitat they need to survive, and help protect both accordingly. And it has worked. Of the more than 1,800 species currently protected by the Act, only nine have been declared extinct. �That�s an astonishing 99 percent success rate.

In its May 20 issue, the editor of the Plain Talk published a Guest Commentary from a Chicago-based, corporate-sponsored interest group which calls itself �The Heartland Institute.��In that commentary, a spokesman for international corporations chose to characterize our Endangered Species Act as the work of �radical environmental activists,� and appeared to blame the ESA for nearly every ill which afflicts our society.

As citizens of Vermillion we first express our disapproval of such extremist editorializing, and, second, want to make the case that the ESA is sound legislation which serves the best interests of our economy and society.

Humankind has a very practical reason for protecting biological diversity. For example, hundreds of medicines and other compounds vital to human health are derived from the natural world, including important emerging treatments for cancer and other diseases.�Wild plants and animal species are the source of virtually all domesticated foods and fibers.�Breeders regularly turn to wild specimens for genes that help crops resist pests, survive drought, and adapt to different growing conditions.

Perhaps even more important, however, is the value to our economy of full, intact, ecosystems, which provide economically valuable services such as erosion control, water filtration, climate regulation,�flood control and pollination.�To cite an example of local importance, the flooding that seems to afflict us in the upper Midwest is in most cases the result of the thoughtless drainage of wetlands. Were these ecosystems maintained intact we would not only protect our biological diversity, but we would avoid many millions of dollars worth of flood damage.

In the end, each of us is dependent for our survival on the health of the ecosystems which surround us. �The ESA is just one tool available to us as we seek to protect ourselves, but it is essential.

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